There’s been a bit of a poopstorm over the internet lately involving Penny Arcade and a comic and t-shirt they made that’s triggering to rape survivors. I won’t go into details — there’s a good summary as to what’s been going on here, and the fabulous Kirby Bits has been writing a lot about the issue from a more personal perspective  — but suffice to say, I’m pretty damn disgusted with PA’s childish, insensitive handling of the situation.
To be fair, Penny Arcade is known for its occasionally offensive, tasteless humour. Which they have every right to express; it just means I don’t read their comic.  There are much funnier places on the internet worthy of my time and eyeballs, after all. The problem, as I see it, is that they also happen to run a certain convention with a reputation for being a welcoming environment to all gamers. Yes, all gamers, even those who happen to be survivors of rape and other forms of abuse. Except… it’s actually not terribly welcoming when a bunch of people at the convention — including at least one of the guys in charge of the whole thing — are now going to start wearing t-shirts that effectively say “team rapist”. So, quite understandably, a number of friends and online acquaintances I respect are putting their money where their mouth is and refusing to attend PAX or provide them with content.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’ve been to PAX in Seattle a number of times and enjoyed myself. I’ve even spoken on panels, and some of them were even about diversity and inclusiveness in the game industry. And I ran the powerpoint presentation for Ron Gilbert’s keynote speech! Yet, I never felt like I was at the convention to support Penny Arcade so much as I just loved having an excuse to see friends and meet people who share my interests. And if my friends won’t come to either of the PAX conventions anymore because it’s no longer a safe space, then there’s no point. I don’t feel safe going there, either. But at the same time, I still want an excuse to meet up with a bunch of awesome people. So, what’s a lonely indie developer to do?
Well, as it turns out, there are a few options:
My friend Max is proposing an “alt-PAX” at ConGlomeration, a crowd-sourced, volunteer-run convention taking place in his hometown of Louisville, KY. It’s a little bit far for me, but I’m being lured with the promise of my very own “awesome hour”, a la Wil Wheaton, and I have to admit, it would be a great excuse to visit East Coast friends if the idea gains enough traction. Plus, if travelling there winds up not being an option, there are apparently plans for virtual guests, which sounds very cool and interesting, and the entire show will be available online for those watching at home.
Geek Girl Con is a brand spanking new event, also run by volunteers, taking place in Seattle in October. It encompasses not just games, but comics, science fiction, and all kinds of geekery. I’ve already offered to present there, but I’d be thrilled to attend as a participant, either way.
For those who enjoy the tabletop rooms at PAX, another friend of mine suggested Go Play Northwest. It’s mainly geared towards obscure indie and story-based RPGs, which I for one can definitely appreciate.
Last year at PAX, the Seattle Interactive Fiction group had their own hotel suite/freeplay room, in which I spoke in several group discussions and generally had fun hanging out and talking to people about storytelling in games. Since you don’t need a PAX badge to get into the IF suite, if they do the same thing this year, I’ll probably consider coming over to Seattle for the weekend just for the IF stuff. There are also some non-PA-affiliated IF events happening in Boston for PAX East, including a demo fair, but I won’t be attending since GDC will be sucking up my travel time and money that month.
EDIT (2011-02-04): A few more cons that came to my attention are listed below. Not all are what I’d call PAX replacements per se, but they are of some interest to me, and may be likewise to others interested in the same things as I am.
IndieCade is a festival for indie video games taking place in Culver City, CA. I’ve heard some very good things from game dev types I know, and it looks to be a great place to check out games with an unusual, innovative bent.
WisCon is a feminist science fiction convention in Madison, WI, and again, I’ve heard great things about it from gamers interested in anti-oppression issues. There’s a lot of in-depth feminist theory being discussed here, though, so your mileage may vary. I won’t be going this year, but I hope I get a chance to someday!
GameStorm is primarily a tabletop games convention, taking place in the “other” Vancouver, in Washington.
That’s all I can think of for now, but if you’ve got any other suggestions for PAX alternatives, please send them my way! I myself am more likely to attend events located in the Pacific Northwest due to travel time and budget, but I’m open to considering all sorts of options, particularly if anyone would like to have me speak on a panel and/or demo Life Flashes By. *wink wink nudge nudge* And even if not, I’d love for a list like this to be a resource for others in a similarly conflicted position.
Obligatory disclaimer: if you’re tempted to reply to this post debating whether it’s right to feel offended by Penny Arcade’s actions, or whether one should or should not attend PAX regardless, I’m going to go right out and say that this is not the place to do so. My reasons for seeking alternatives are my own, and I do not begrudge those who do still wish to attend either convention. I may yet change my mind, but it would take a ginormous, sincere Apology with a capital A (and non-apologies to appease people with money and influence don’t count) from Penny Arcade to sway me, and quite frankly, I highly doubt they’d care to go through the trouble for little ol’ me. They sell out of tickets pretty much every year, anyway. Plus, I’m not into censorship. Like I said, they’re free to keep right on offending people and being petulant man-children about it, if that’s what’s important to them. I’m just not going to give them any more support, financial or otherwise.
EDIT (2011-02-04): Since I didn’t make it clear before, ALL COMMENTS THAT DO NOT RESPECT THE ABOVE DISCLAIMER WILL BE DELETED. There are other places on the internet where you can debate whether it’s “okay” to be angry over this. This is not one of them.